Ain’t No Sunshine: What’s Going On Behind Government’s Closed Doors?
This month, the Missouri State Auditor’s office released a report on state and local government compliance with Missouri’s Sunshine Law. The Sunshine Law requires government bodies to keep meetings open to the public, provides procedures and safeguards when a meeting needs to be held in private, and imposes other requirements on government bodies to ensure transparency. According to the auditor’s report, state agencies and local governments across the state are not complying with these laws.
The report includes numerous violations of public records and public meeting requirements. The following government bodies failed to abide by the proper procedure for making meetings closed to the public:
- Gentry County
- City of Savannah
- Ste. Genevieve County
- City of Liberal
- Southern Dallas County Fire Protection District
- Daviess County
- City of Brentwood
- Department of Public Safety/State Emergency Management Agency
- City of Buckner
- City of Diamond
- Cedar County
- Caldwell County
- McDonald County
- Lake Lotawana Community Improvement District
- Vernon County
- Montgomery County
- Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners
- Clark County
- Stone County
- The School District of Springfield, R-XII
- Monarch Fire Protection District
- Natural Resources/Soil and Water Conservation Program
- Higher Education/Southeast Missouri State University
- Madison County
Most of the government bodies that failed to keep meetings open were cities and counties, but some of these bodies, including the Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, the Department of Public Safety/State Emergency Management Agency, and the Southern Dallas County Fire Protection District, are charged with ensuring public safety. The Kansas City Board of Police Commissioners, for example, failed to comply with the provisions of Missouri law that require a body in a closed meeting to properly document issues discussed, to discuss only authorized topics during the closed meeting, and to properly disclose the final disposition of matters discussed in closed sessions.
Government bodies have the power to deprive us of life, liberty, and property. They are charged with providing public safety and education services that Missourians depend on. They are given the power to extract payment for these services whether an individual wants them or not. The open government requirements of Missouri’s Sunshine Law are essential safeguards against abuse of government power.